Race Day: The Sifting Process Is Under Way
By Jim Pedley | Managing Editor
This morning, it’s two down, eight to go in the Chase for the Sprint Cup Championship. One-fifth of the way through. Whacked-out, bizarro-world events yet to go in a sport in which blind circumstance plays a much bigger role than does skill in determining outcomes.
But sports fans being human and the media needing something to feed the beast, the sifting process has commenced: Who’s in, who’s out of the championship hunt as race day gets dawns for the AAA 400 at Dover International Speedway?
Several compeitors were asked about the current state of the sifting process earlier this weekend at Dover. Here is what they had to say:
Dale Earnhardt Jr., driver of the No. 88 Hendrick Motorsports Chevrolet when asked if anybody can be counted out yet: “‘Yeah, it’s too early. There is a lot of racing left to do and guys are definitely in some good positions; but every team is good and just as quickly as we got 20-some points behind, these guys in front of us could do the same thing.”
Matt Kenseth, driver of the No. 17 Roush Fenway Racing Ford when asked if it’s too early to be toe-tagging any driver or team: I suspect after this weekend you’ll probably be able to pick a few people that might be out and every week along the line you’ll probably be able to do that, but until you’re mathematically out, I still think you’re basically in it. I don’t spend a lot of time studying the points because the system has always been pretty easy to figure out. The higher you finish, the more points you get and you just go out and race hard and finish as high as you can every week. You
can’t control what anybody else does. All you can do is control what you and your race team does and you just put forth the best effort you can every week, get the best finishes you can and hope at the end of the day that you’re up in there and have more points than the rest of them.
Brad Keselowski, No. 2 Penske Racing Dodge when asked if he thinks five-time champion Jimmie Johnson, who is 29 points out of the lead, is done for: “I don’t think that he’s out of it. I don’t think that it looks all that good. I think that we read too much into what position he’s in and not how many races are left and how far back he is. He’s really not that far back.”
When: Today, 2:15 p.m. ET
TV: ESPN, 1 p.m. ET
Radio: MRN/Sirius Satellite Ch. 90
Track layout: 1-mile oval
Race distance: 400 laps/400 miles
Frontstretch: 1,076 feet
Backstretch: 1,076 feet
Banking on straights: 9 degrees
Banking in turns: 24 degrees
2010 winner: Jimmie Johnson
2010 polesitter: Jimmie Johnson
Today’s polesitter: Martin Truex Jr.
Points leaders: 1. Tony Stewart, 2,094; 2. Kevin Harvick, 2,087; 3. Brad Keselowski, 2,083; 4. Carl Edwards, 2,080; 5. Jeff Gordon, 2,071; 6. Kyle Busch, 2,068; 7. Matt Kenseth, 2,068; 8. Dale Earnhardt Jr., 2,068; 9. Kurt Busch, 2,066; 10. Jimmie Johnson, 2,065; 11. Ryan Newman, 2,060; 12. Denny Hamlin, 2,028.
Toss the keys
Howard Comstock of Dodge Motorsports offers the keys to winning at Dover:
Track Position Is King: “I think track position is as big here as anywhere, but for a different reason. Passing at Dover is a dangerous proposition. The corners look wide, but the straightaways are narrow. If you can’t get completely by somebody, you put both cars in big danger of crashing coming off the corner. Just for the danger factor, track position has great, great value here. If you can qualify well, start up front and stay up front all day, you’re chances for a good finish are much higher. In previous years, a few drivers have had bad qualifying runs and come up through the field to win this race, but the chances are a lot lower coming from the back of the field. You want a good qualifying effort to start up front. You need good pit stops to stay up near the leaders. Those will be huge factors tomorrow.”
Two-Tire, Four-Tire Strategy: “I don’t think you’ll see that much two-tire, four-tire strategy until the end of the race because of tire wear on the concrete surface. Everywhere that we’ve gone this year, that last stop has been where people have tired a two-tire strategy. If the last stop of tomorrow’s race is made under green, I think some people might try a two-tire strategy. It’s all with the thought of track position.”
Past winners of Dover Chase races:
2004: Ryan Newman
2005: Jimmie Johnson
2006: Jeff Burton
2007: Carl Edwards
2008: Greg Biffle
2009: Jimmie Johnson
2010: Jimmie Johnson
The testy exchange between five-time champion Jimmie Johnson and his crew chief, Chad Knaus, in last weekend’s race at New Hampshire continued to be a talking point this weekend.
Several drivers were asked if on-air squabbles were pro forma in the sport.
Dale Earnhardt Jr. said, “That’s sort of the nature of the way the networks want to provide the sport to the fans and that’s something that the media wants to cover. So I’ve kind of gotten used to it. But I remember when you used to have a hard time getting a scanner or being able to listen to the teams or even when I was going to the races with Daddy, it was like pulling teeth trying to get a radio so I could listen to what they were doing.
“And nowadays it’s all sort of out there and in front of everybody. Every driver and crew chief have their times where they are going to say and do something things that they would rather not be public, but under the circumstances you really could care less at the moment. But yeah, I would rather the public and the media not know what we were talking about on our radios but that’s not the way the world works today. And so you have to understand and accept that. And I think it’s good because it makes you be a better person. It makes you control yourself better. Had we not have such freedom as we do today, who knows what kind of asses we’d be? I get a little bit more coverage that most guys, from what I’ve listened to. I’ve never crossed some of the lines these other guys cross, but that’s just the way it goes.”
More radio chatter
Carl Edwards was asked how he keeps his crew chief, Bob Osborne, cool during races.
“He’s been doing really well lately. He’s been in a good mood. I still can’t believe he sung on the radio. That was insane, so I think Bob is having fun. The other day it was New Hampshire and we were slow in practice – it might have been qualifying when I qualified poorly – and he wasn’t saying much. I said, ‘Come on Bob, we can’t get frustrated.’ He said, ‘I don’t get frustrated. I get serious and I get to work.’ I thought that was pretty cool. He just works hard and he truly cares about it, so I’m just glad to have him as a crew chief. I think he does a really good job and I believe we understand each other really well. He puts up with me talking all the time and throwing out all these ideas and I put up with him just being serious and working hard and brushing me off all the time, so it’s pretty funny that way.”
Only one driver in today’s starting field got the first victory of his Cup career at Dover. Who is that man?
The first two races of the Chase have been fuel-mileage jobs. Could the third race of the Chase be one as well?
Brad Keselowski says he thinks not.
“I don’t think that this will be a fuel mileage race at all,” he said. “The tires fall off here, looking at our records, is over a second. With that kind of fall off I don’t think that it will apply.”
Martin Truex Jr., the polesitter in today’s race, is the only driver in the field to get his first Cup victory at Dover. That was in June of 2007.
Kansas Speedway. Greg Biffle won last year’s race at the 1.5-mile oval in Kansas City, Kan. Kasey Kahne won the pole but finished 37th.
– Jim Pedley can be reached at email@example.com